Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS
Tropical Restaurant and the car wash next door are obstructed by a temporary barrier from on long-delayed construction project.

People used to wait outside to get into Tropical Restaurant in Middle Village on Valentine’s Day, but this year, the holiday brought owner Steven Vinas nothing but heartbreak.

Sitting at a table in the completely empty dining room on Feb. 23, he said this is what it looked like on Valentine’s Day a week prior, and just about every other day for the past year. The restaurant has been serving its popular Ecuadorian cuisine for 13 years on Fresh Pond Road near Metropolitan Avenue, but Vinas, 44, said business is plummeting because of a botched construction project outside his front door.

“I started seeing the business like a cancer, killing you slowly,” Vinas said.

The reconstruction of the bridge deck on Metropolitan Avenue has been a source of local frustration for more than a year. Originally scheduled to begin in July 2016, delays pushed the start of the construction to January 2017 when the contractor, Mugrose Construction Inc., had trouble securing the permits for the job.

At that point, the projected timeline for the first phase of work to be completed was January 2018. During the summer of 2017, however, the project was delayed again for two months because repair work to the M train line forced the MTA to send extra shuttle buses into the area.

By the end of 2017, very little progress had been made at Metropolitan Avenue, and the Department of Transportation (DOT) confirmed to QNS that it had defaulted its contract with Mugrose Construction. In the two months since then, the project has been at a standstill.

Vinas took his concerns to Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, who then wrote to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg expressing concern for the status of the project. Trottenburg sent a letter in response, which Vinas also received a copy of, and it said the bonding company for the project was expected to have a new plan in place by Jan. 19.

As of Feb. 22, however, that plan was still not in place, according to a DOT spokesperson.

“The contractor’s bonding agency is in the process of rebidding the project to a contractor who will complete remaining work,” the spokesperson said. “A new schedule will be submitted after the new firm is under contract.”

For Vinas, that means the temporary concrete barrier that protrudes in front of his restaurant could be there for at least another year. It makes accessing the restaurant more difficult, and the traffic it causes makes fewer people want to stop. He was only prepared to ride out the storm for the original one-year timeline of the project, he said.

“Everybody has their own story behind it, but I’m feeling it financially, emotionally, and feeling very bad about the whole situation,” Vinas said. “I’m very disappointed in how the city does business, and it hurts the small business.”

What was once the most successful of five Tropical Restaurants owned by Vinas and his brother, the Middle Village location has declined 40 percent in sales over the past year, he said. The owner of the car wash next door told Vinas that he is even worse off.

But the small businesses aren’t the only ones feeling the weight of the stalled project. Vinas said an employee from the CVS across the street came into the restaurant one day and suggested that the national pharmacy chain was struggling as well.

A source familiar with the situation told QNS that the CVS on Metropolitan Avenue suffered a 25 percent loss in sales over the past year.

If something doesn’t change soon, Vinas said Tropical won’t be around for much longer. He already had the second floor — which was used by the restaurant for parties — converted into an apartment to try to make up for the losses. Now his lease is up and his landlord has set new terms, including higher rent, Vinas said.

Within the next 60 days, Vinas must decide if he will keep trying to survive, or close his doors for good.

“You might come back in 90 days and I’ll be closed, only because of this, and it breaks my heart,” Vinas said.


Join The Discussion

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Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr. March 05, 2018 / 05:39PM
Bureaucracy and corruption by the DOT as always.

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Mike M February 27, 2018 / 01:46PM
Not to mention 24 hour traffic agents mandated to the project (paid for by tax payers) due to the dangerous road configuration/ rerouting of trucks and buses. With the project further mismanaged and stalled, the burden on the tax payer, and disruption to the locals is seemingly indefinite! This is criminal!!

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